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Stop Making These Swim Technique Mistakes

By Chris Kaplanis | Oct. 31, 2017, 3:17 p.m. (ET)

This is part one of a three-part series. Next week, Coach Chris Kaplanis will share the most common bike technique mistakes and how to fix them.

Fitness is important, but proper technique is key to maximize the fitness you have. It also helps to reduce the risk of injury. As a professional triathlon coach, I regularly work with athletes 1-on-1 with the goal of improving technique. Below you will find a three of the most common swim technique mistakes I see and how you can correct them.

It is very important to note, in in order to permanently correct any of the elements below, it will take many reps of focusing on the one thing you are looking to improve. If you try to do more than one thing at a time, you will not accomplish anything. Stay patient and remain focused. Before you know it, it will become second nature.

1. Stop Sign

swim technique

As your arm re-enters the water following the recovery phase and you extend it forward, pay special attention to your hand and specifically your fingertips. Often as triathletes extend their arm underwater, their fingertips scoop up. The result looks as if they are making a stop sign with their hand.

If you find yourself doing this, it can be easily corrected. Make sure when you extend your arm underwater, your wrist is just higher than your fingertips. In other words, your fingertips should be pointing slightly down.

Making this simple correction has boosted the swim times of a countless number of athletes I have worked with. Not long ago, the athlete pictured below, took 25 seconds off of her 100-yard pace over a 1,000-yard TT in only 1 month.

2. Leg Flare

Do your legs flare out or scissor when you kick? This flaw is especially common when athletes rotate and breathe. The funny thing is you may not realize you’re doing this until you see a video of yourself.

When your legs flare out, it creates a tremendous amount of drag. Your legs essentially become underwater parachutes.

swim technique

To correct this, try brushing your big toes together when kicking. If you can do this, you will know your legs are staying close to each other. This is great because you don’t need someone constantly watching over you.

You can also try swimming with a pull buoy between your ankles. If the buoy comes out, you’re not keeping your legs together. This will be challenging at first, but soon it will become effortless.

swim technique

Another way to train your legs to stay closer together is by swimming with a band (or old tire tube) around your ankles. This is by far the most challenging of these suggestions. However, it will pay off big time! I had an athlete swim like this exclusively for 2.5 weeks. By the end of this time, his average pace for his 500-yard TT went from 1:50/100 down to 1:35/100.

3. Arm Belly Flop

swim technique

The way your arm enters the water helps determine how effective your catch and subsequent pull will be. Additionally, excessive splashing caused by your arm entering the water will create more drag, which will slow you down even more. The better your catch, the more water you’ll be able to “grab” and the further and faster you’ll move through the water as you complete your stroke.

The goal is to make your hand enter the water closer to your head (as opposed to far out in front of you) and then continue to drive and extend it forward on a slight angle (down) underwater.

Think of your hand as a high diver, diving into the water. Your goal is to make as little splash as possible. Try not to disappoint the judges on this one.

Chris Kaplanis is the co-founder and assistant head coach at RTA Triathlon. RTA works with athletes from across the country offering a variety of services to get you faster, fitter and on track to successfully accomplish your goals. He is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and USA Cycling Level II Certified Coach. Kaplanis is a five-time IRONMAN finisher, in addition to IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship and USA Triathlon National Championships finisher. He is a USA Triathlon Al- American. Learn more at

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.